commute · cycling

Bettina’s quick bike commute check-in

First things first, if you celebrate: merry merry! But if you need a quick respite from the festivities, I’m going to talk about something decidedly un-festive: bike commuting.

Last time I wrote (a while ago) my e-bike had just arrived. Now we already have a few commutes under our belt so I quickly wanted to check in. It’s been going reasonably well. I say “reasonably” because I didn’t get as many commutes in as I’d hoped so far.

Picture of tiny human inspecting our commuting set up: a black gravel e-bike and a blue and black trailer. He approves.

The main obstacle, on which many other things hinge, is that I don’t currently work in my usual office. Our building is being renovated and we’re a few kilometres down the road at an interim location. So my routine is: put kid in trailer, zoom up the hill, get kid out and deliver him to daycare, unhook trailer and lock it at the campus bike storage, zoom to work. And back in the afternoon. It’s a bit of a schlep. It’d be so much easier if once I was at daycare, I wouldn’t have to bike another 3k. It’s not far, but it takes time and… logistics.

Then there’s the weather. I’m a fair weather cyclist as is, but we don’t have showers at our interim offices and I can’t show up soaked because I’d be freezing and feeling like a wet mouse for the rest of the day. So when it’s raining, or threatening to rain, we don’t bike.

And there’s time. It’s been stressful at work and with daycare hours, I have to power through. It’s an “every minute counts” kind of situation. I go to work, emerge bleary-eyed from my office at lunchtime to grab a sandwich and munch it at my desk, and then emerge bleary-eyed again to run off to daycare pickup. The bike commute doesn’t take a lot of extra time, but it adds up.

I know all these things are going to improve once we move back into our building, but right now I’m unimpressed because I’m LOVING my bike commutes and I wish I could do more. Anyway, onwards and upwards. Better times will come!

commute · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Ready to bike commute year round?

So you bought a bike during the pandemic–Welcome, welcome to the club!

And you’ve been riding for fun and maybe commuting, but it’s starting to get dark and cold and you’re wondering, what next? Do you keep riding? Do you ride year round?

I’m on Team Yes! I have been for a few years now.

And each year I share some advice.

Here’s some from the cycling media:

How to Commute All Year Round

“Just because it’s sub-zero, doesn’t mean you should give up your commute. Commuting can be a great form of motivation during the cold months as you have a goal: get to work on time. It’s a lot easier to convince yourself to ride 40 minutes to your office on a cold day, as opposed to going out for a 40 minute ride.”

Eight Tips to Keep Riding in Cold Weather

“Put on your final layers or gloves when you are walking out of the door. Especially when you are waiting on other people or tinkering with your bike, it’s all too easy to put on all of your warm layers and still spend several minutes inside heating up. Even though you might feel ok, moisture is accumulating on your skin. You likely won’t notice that you are sweating, but you will feel colder during your ride.”

And here’s some from us:

Getting ready for winter cycling!

Getting Ready for Winter Bike to Work Day!

Riding in the cold and the snow: A how-to, complete with bonus fashion tips!

Happy Winter Bike to Work Day! #WinterBikeToWorkDay

Have any questions about winter riding and cold weather bike commuting? Send them our way!

Here’s me winter biking for fun:

Sam on a fat bike

Here’s me dressed for commuting with my usual winter commuting bike:

Sam with her everyday gravel/commuting bike
commute · cycling

From contemplation to action: Bettina’s e-bike is here!

In my last post, I shared that I was contemplating the purchase of an e-bike for my commute with tiny human in the bike trailer. Well, that escalated quickly – I ordered one the next day! I spent a weekend thinking about it and researching, and then a great offer came along that I couldn’t refuse. And now it’s here: my Bergamont E-Grandurance RD Expert (mine is the 2020 model and this link is the 2022 one, but you get the gist). And here’s a picture:

Bettina’s new e-bike leaning attractively against an industrial staircase, black and new and shiny in the sun.

It’s basically a gravel bike with a motor, which I really like. What I like even more is that it comes with all the trappings to make it road safe and comfortable (rack, fenders, lights etc.). It’s marketed as a commuter bike, which is exactly what I need, and it’s sporty, which is exactly what I want.

So far, I’ve tried it on an even surface and using the motor (which has three levels of support) is like someone pushing you along. Zooooom, swoooosh!

The reason I haven’t used it for its actual purpose yet is that we’re currently lacking the correct through-axle adapter to attach the bike trailer. It took me longer to research the bloody adapter than it took me to find a bike I liked, and in the end it turns out I have to have it shipped to Europe from the US *facepalm*. Apparently, through-axles are a lot less standardised than would be good for them. I mean, we have two adapters already in the house and neither one fits, and the trailer’s manufacturer doesn’t have one that fits my through-axle. It took us several e-mail exchanges with their customer support to work that out. In the end, the good folks at the Robert Axle Project came through for me and set me up with the right thing (if you ever need a through-axle adapter, these are your people – stellar customer service and they really do seem to have everything!). Let’s hope it doesn’t get held up in some global supply chain debacle.

So far, even though it’s mostly been sitting in our basement, I’m thrilled with my new toy. Will report back on how it goes with the trailer-pulling and commuting!

221 in 2021 · commute · cycling

Bettina contemplates an e-bike

The truth is, my high-flying fitness plans aren’t going all that well. I’m swamped at work and life is… well, being life. I miss moving, but I just don’t have time to do more than swimming once a week and maaaaybe a run, if I’m lucky. I look at my count in the 221 in 2021 challenge and it’s just laughable at this point. There’s no way in hell I’m going to make it, and as a completionist this bugs me more than I’d like to admit.

A person on a teal-coloured e-bike.
Photo by Gotrax on Unsplash

So I’ve been thinking about how I could get more movement in. I used to get a lot of my exercise through my commute, either biking or running. But now that the tiny human goes to nursery at the staff kindergarten where I work, I’ve been going by car every day and I’ve completely lost those workouts. If you look at the old post about my run commute I’ve linked above, you’ll see that I work up a very steep hill from where I live. Biking up with a normal bike and a kid’s trailer is just not feasible.

That’s why I’m very seriously contemplating an e-bike. I see other parents with kids in the same daycare do it and I get an itch. It would be perfect. I’m going to do it, I just need to find the right bike and make friends with the idea of parting with a whole bunch of my hard-earned euros (wow, these things are expensive!). Wish me luck on my search!

commute · cycling · fitness · racing

Competitive cycling and everyday commuting: Not as distinct as you might think

Normally we think of everyday bike riding as distinct from competitive cycling. I’ve been part of many community groups focussed on active transporation–hi GCAT!–and such groups spend a lot of time staking out room for people riding bikes as transportaion, as opposed to people who take on the identity of ‘cyclist.’ No lycra required!

Mostly I think that’s a sensible thing to do, even as someone who moves between these worlds. I bop around town on my Brompton, I trundle over the snow on the trails on my fat bike, I ride gravel paths for recreation, I Zwift indoors, and I ride my road bike some pretty long distances with friends. Clearly I’m a cyclist and I’m an everyday bike commuter.

And then I read this piece on the cumulative benefits of micro commutes. It’s about the training benefits of everyday riding.

“Most Dutch citizens can calmly and competently navigate cobbles, traffic, corners, bumps and berms in the rain. Commuting by bike or foot as a child is not only good for the development of skills and health but is also the best way to build long term athleticism.”

It’s the everyday cycling that makes so many of the Dutch excellent racing cyclists. Think about running and Kenyan young people, Michael Barry writes. Young people gain skills and confidence that translate into sports excellence.

Getting kids on bikes is good for the environment. It’s good for their health and everyday fitness.

It also turns out to be good for sports development and athletic skills and confidence. I started to think about that link and the connection between young girls and everyday movement. Girls move less than boys starting at a very young age. Part of the story no doubt has to do with the gendered nature of the protection paradox. We want what’s best for our children and so we protect them from risk. Not shockingly, it turns out parents worry more about girls than boys.

If boys are allowed and encouraged to ride to school more than girls, we see how the gap in skills and confidence develops. If we want to encourage equality in cycling as a performance sport we ought to care about boys and girls riding their bikes to school.

Riding bikes along a canal

commute · cycling · weight loss · weight stigma

“On yer bike” for oh so many reasons, but weight loss isn’t one of them

In April, which feels like years ago in terms of the pandemic, Catherine asked, Does COVID-19 care what you weigh?

The answer, not surprisingly, then and now, is that it’s complicated.

Catherine concluded, “I don’t work in medicine, but I do know that there is a humongous evidence gap between what’s happening clinically in a particular hospital and its patients (each with their own complex medical and other histories), and what is true about everyone with higher BMIs in the US (not to mention other countries) with respect to risks related to COVID-19. Right now we can’t say much of anything. So maybe we shouldn’t. Which means the answer to my blog title question is, “we don’t have evidence right now to answer this question”. It doesn’t make for exciting news copy, but it’s the closest thing to the truth right now.”

But nevermind the fact that it’s complicated get in the way of a feel-good media campaign. Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson plans an anti-obesity/anti-COVID-19 campaign, with bicycles front and center.

I have lots of complicated thoughts about all of this. And it’s not helped by all of the cycling advocacy groups which make up a good chunk of my social media newsfeed sharing news of the plan enthusiastically. Treehugger proclaims, Miracle Pill Found for Fighting COVID-19: The Bicycle.

Sigh.

First, it’s not at all clear that if you had to pick one thing to work on to improve COVID-19 control in the United Kingdom it’s weight loss. How about mask wearing? Contract tracing? Or speedy testing? There are many areas in which the UK’s COVID-19 response is lacking. I wouldn’t start by blaming individual citizens for their excess pounds.

Second, it’s not clear that there is a shred of evidence that ‘eat less, move more’ public health campaigns do anything other than shame fat people.

Here’s an obesity doctor’s assessment, “I find it impossible to fathom that anyone with even an ounce of knowledge of the complex, multifactorial, chronic, and often progressive nature of obesity should in this day and age still fail to understand that the proposed plan, which includes the usual talk of changing the food environment (largely by appealing to personal responsibility) and a 12-week weight loss plan app [sic], focussed on healthy living (read, “eat-less-move-more”), is about as likely to noticeably reduce obesity in the UK population, as taking out a full page ad in The Sunday Times stating that “Obesity is bad!”.”

And here’s Susie Orbach’s response in the Guardian: Britain’s obesity strategy ignores the science: dieting doesn’t work.

Third, there are so many, many reasons to encourage people to ride bikes–less pollution, better mental health, happiness, etc–we don’t need to add one that isn’t true to the list.

Note that Boris, like me, is a regular cyclist, who is thought to be by many people someone who could do to lose a few pounds, or even stones, as they say over there. Normally I’m out there defending fat cyclists like me and Boris. See Fat cyclists in the news and Big women on bikes and Pretty fast for a big girl and Not all cyclists are thin and Fat lass at the front?. It’s a thing I write about a lot.

But here he is, a committed, regular, everyday cyclist out there pushing bike riding for weight loss.

Note we’re different kinds of cyclists but neither of us is thin.

I love bikes but I hate to hear them promoted as weight loss tools.

Because, they’re not.

I love to ride my bike. I’m on track to ride 5000 km this year, or about a 100 km a week. You can follow me on Strava, here. On ZwiftPower I’m here. I’ve been doing this for years and I can assure you it’s not making me any smaller.

And I worry that if people start riding to lose weight, and they don’t lose weight, they’ll quit and miss out on all the other benefits of moving through life on two wheels. For example, cyclists are the happiest of commuters.

What bicycling feels like every single time!

In my post on reasons to ride I give some of my reasons for riding a bike, “There are lots and lots of reasons to ride bikes. Some are health related. It’s also a terrific stress relief, and it’s good for the environment. It’s an easy way to incorporate exercise into your day. It’s good to spend more time outside. As well, it’s a sensible financial move. Driving, once you add up the costs of car payments, parking, insurance, and gas is an expensive way to get around. And I agree with all of these reasons but on their own they might not be enough to get me out the door and on my bike. What does it then? The sheer joy of cycling. On my bike I feel like I’m 12 again. Whee, zoom!”

Here are some more reasons people ride:


\

commute · cycling · fitness · winter

Happy Winter Bike to Work Day! #WinterBikeToWorkDay

Winter Bike Love Strike

I had a pretty good January of winter riding thanks to #31DaysofWinterRiding but it ended with a week of riding in warm, sunny Florida and it was hard to get back on the bike in the snow after that.

But I’m starting up again tomorrow prompted by #WinterBikeToWorkDay.

Upsala, Sweden is currently top on the leaderboard with the most committed winter cyclists but it’s nice to see some Canadian cities up in the top ten. Hi Calgary! Hi Montreal!

If you’re looking for how to tips, here’s my advice on winter cycling complete with fashion tips.

See you out there!

(Update: It’s snowing really hard out there. My plan is to ride my fat bike. It’s also going to be cold. Here’s the forecast: Sunny. Wind up to 15 km/h. High minus 8. Wind chill minus 26 in the morning and minus 13 in the afternoon. Brrr! Wish me luck!)

commute · cycling · fitness · snow · winter

Sam’s January challenge

When I saw this in my Twitter feed, I smiled: “Anyone else interested in the #31daysofwinterbiking challenge, starting 1/1/2020? It’s a judgment-free, no-shame way to be active in January, inside or out.”

Here’s how it all got started.

I figure I can do it. Certainly I bike commute to work. If I’m stuck I may count riding in Zwift.

Zwift!

And it will help that we’ve got a week of riding in Florida planned at the end of January.

#biking #winterbike #biketowork #BikeEveryDay #winterbiketowork

Sarah and Sam on a fat bike lesson

Joining in? Use the #31daysofwinterbiking

See you out there!

commute · cycling

Adventures on a folding bike!

Last month, I wrote about why I ride, the social justice edition. I focused on the ways in which riding brings me closer to the earth, to other humans, and to our shared entanglements on the road (and elsewhere). The bike, I argued, is a way for us to stay grounded in our commonalities, to recognize our different needs together, and to become more aware of the needs of our shared home, the earth.

For me, part of that last item has to do with changing the way I commute to work. My campus office is about 125km from my front door, and in order to manage that distance I used to drive to and from twice a week. (I’m fortunate to be able to work about 60% of the time at home.) I quickly discovered that driving was more arduous than I’d imagined (focusing on the road for 1.5 hours, at 120kph, is stressful: who knew?). So about a year ago I decided to start riding the train.

That worked fine, until the weather made it less than pleasant to walk the 5 or so kilometres from the station to my office along the riverside path. (One terrible winter day I discovered that the path was covered in about 4 feet of snow, uncleared, but having descended into the valley I had no choice but to do the portage. That was my workout for the day!) I began using the bus to get to and from the station/my office, but when I wanted to add in a visit to Paul, my and Tracy’s personal trainer, or my elderly parents in the west end of town, things got tricky. I discovered the buses don’t sync up well, and outer-ring-to-outer-ring locales aren’t served by direct routes very often, if at all. Cabs were an option, but seemed pricey as a regular choice.

So this past summer I decided that the best way to ensure I could continue commuting by train, and indeed commute much more by train (last winter it was about 40% train, 60% car, mostly because sometimes the ease of the latter got the better of me), was to buy a folding bike. One August morning I found a sale on my preferred model at Cate’s local bike shop, so I got the commuter service into the city and made the leap.

Here’s the result: Titania, my Tern Link D8:

(Images of a folding bicycle, open, blue and black in colour; in one, Kim stands proudly in the shop with her green helmet on, holding the handlebars. In another, the bike is on a train platform with a green and white GO train in the background. I want to pause here to recognize my privilege in affording this new piece of gear, which came in at around $1000CDN. I saved for it using my monthly commuter budget.) 

Now, folding bikes aren’t cheap. Sam has the amazing Brompton, the Cadillac (or maybe the Lexus? The Mercedes?) of folding bikes. Her job is full to the brim of travel, and her knee issues mean a very easy to fold and unfold, quite light and very versatile bike are required for her to do her job effectively. For me, the Tern was the budget option: it suits my needs well because it has a rolling adapter that I purchased as part of the sale, and I can pull it from my car to the train and back like luggage. (This is also great for airports, I’ll add.) It’s on balance larger and heavier than the Brompton, but the trade-off is that it has exceptionally solid, almost regular-size bike features, and I notice literally no difference between it and my upright Dutch commuter bike. (In fact, I think the Tern is faster and more stable on hills.)

(The above is a video showing three characters from the BBC satire, W1A, “arriving in tandem” at work on their Bromptons. It’s a spoof on the poshness of the bikes, their status symbol value. The narrator voice is David Tennant. The deep voice is Hugh Skinner, who plays an intern who has somehow got himself a Brompton anyway; the higher voice is Jason Watkins as Simon, humble-bragging about his new carbon-fibre Brompton. If you don’t know the series check it out!) 

I’ve now been commuting with Titania for a month. How’s it gone? Fairly well overall, though there has been a learning curve. Here are my top three take-away lessons thus far.

  1. Just because it’s a folding bike doesn’t mean it’s utterly simple and totally intuitive, with instant swanning through subway stations and the like. On my first trip into Toronto at rush hour (when regular bikes aren’t allowed on the commuter train), I discovered just how heavy it is to run with a folding bicycle. I had forgotten to set up the roller option, and I was late to the train. I dashed, Titania at my left, bobbing about and staining my calf with chain grease. I shouted desperately at the platform staff: “please don’t leave without me!!!” In the end they shut the doors as I arrived, and then took pity and re-opened them for me. I spent the whole ride into town sweaty, headachy, and sore. Lesson learned: always have the bike set up on the easiest-to-maneouvre setting for your next outing. Keep it in the front hall for ease, too.
  2. Unfolding a folding bike may be simple, but it’s not necessarily THAT simple. I’d practiced in the shop, of course, and at home once or twice. But then two weeks elapsed before I used it for work. When I arrived at my station, disembarked and began to unfold it, I realized I’d forgotten some basics. I managed to turn the handlebars to the wrong way, and rode about 100m with them backwards before realizing. Luckily, I did not fall over! Lesson learned: practice folding and unfolding it at home a few different times over several days, because when you’re in public, it’s embarrassing and potentially dangerous to screw up the basics.
  3. All kinds of weather happen when you are commuting by bike; you will discover this when you least expect it! It was a crazy hot morning last Tuesday, the last day of full-on summer in Southern Ontario. 30+C (about 90F), and HUMID AS HICKETTY HECK. I put on a light summer dress and packed my workout gear in my backpack for later. THEN, around 3pm, the sky darkened. And it opened up. By the time I had to ride to yoga, it was raining gently, but there was flash flooding all along the bike path I use to get from campus to downtown. I had a few episodes of “wheee!” through puddles, channeling my inner Sam, but when I arrived at yoga my arse was soaked, and the underside of Titania was lined with grit. It took about an hour the next day to clean her fully, and worst of all, I spent most of yoga rather uncomfortable. Lesson learned: buy the fenders straight away, and check the forecast! Also: use the nifty rain pouch that comes with the bike’s fanny pack; it will keep your phone completely dry.

Readers: do any of you have folding bike war stories? Or bike-commute war stories? Please share!

commute · cycling · gear

Am I a cyclist yet?

If you’re a regular reader, you might know I bought a new bike a little while ago. Its delayed arrival tested my patience, but since I finally got it, I’ve been enjoying it very, very much. Here it is:

Bettina’s light blue bike leaning attractively against a rather unattractive garage door.

Before I took the plunge on buying a bike, I did some fairly exhaustive research. I didn’t want to sink a lot of money into something I wouldn’t enjoy. (What can I say, I was raised in the Southwest of Germany, home to the (in)famously loath-to-spend “Swabian housewife“. An icky and sexist stereotype if there ever was one, but nevertheless, something must have stuck.) I asked my bike-savvy colleagues. I interrogated my equally bike-savvy co-bloggers. I interviewed a friend who purchased my bike’s predecessor model a few years ago. Eventually, I settled on a gravel bike: I wanted something versatile that could take on my pot hole-riddled commute as well as, potentially next season, a first stab at a triathlon. I’m extremely pleased with my decision. My Cucuma Casca is a joy to ride!

I’m so smitten with it, I want to ride it all day long, everyday, to the point where this is slightly endangering my half-marathon training (a topic for another post). It is so light and nimble, and so almost-effortlessly fast. It makes riding up the hill to work actually enjoyable. Luckily, once I had placed my order, my partner got a bit jealous and purchased a gravel bike of his own, so now we both have a joint new hobby and I have a partner in crime! Just this past Sunday, we went off on a nice long ride, making the most of the wonderful late summer we’ve been having. Here’s my partner, trundling along on our latest adventure:

A cyclist on a bike path alongside a river with his back turned to the camera. The sky is blue and the path is part awash with sunlight, part overshadowed by trees.

What I do now is a very different type of riding than what I’ve ever done before. Here’s my old pair of wheels, which I still use for city commuting when I know I’m going to leave my bike locked up somewhere unattended for a longish period of time, like at the train station:

A black commuter bike with a basket on the rear rack, snow in the background

As you can see, old bike is very much a city commuter. It has eight gears and is fairly heavy. It has taken me on some longer rides as well, but it certainly isn’t speedy or good at mountains. For my current commute, I need “good at mountains”, and I want (at least somewhat) “speedy” for longer rides and the aforementioned potential triathlon. So far, I’ve done several longish rides, the longest being last Sunday’s 67 kilometres, lots of commutes to work, 5.5km each way, and a couple of rides to the pool for swim practice, which at 12 km each way is further away than it sounds.

Does that make me a cyclist now?

If your definition of cyclist is “a person who rides a bike with some frequency”, I’ve actually been one for a long time, since I was a kid. But if your definition is “a person who rides a bike for the sake of riding a bike in a sporty fashion”, then I’m essentially a complete newbie. I don’t use clipless pedals (yet?). At 40mm, my tires are way too thick for a proper “roadie”. I put fenders on my bike first thing, although they are the easily removable kind, should I tire of them. I’ve learned to appreciate the padding in cycling shorts and the pockets and longer back of a cycling jersey, although I don’t always wear one. I’m planning to try my hand at basic bike care myself, rather than letting others (my partner or the shop) sort it out. I’m planning to try out thinner tires next season. I’m ridiculously excited about my new sport. It’s a new adventure and I’m keen to see where it goes!

Bettina wearing a pink top, black bike shorts, gloves, sunglasses, a small trail running/cycling backpack, and a helmet, with her blue bike in the shade of a tree in a park.

I’m a cyclist, but a different kind than I used to be.